Jackie Gleason dies at 71

'Honeymooners' actor worked for six decades

Jackie Gleason, 71, who as Ralph Kramden in the TV series, “The Honeymooners,” created one of the enduring comic characters in American showbiz history, died June 24 of cancer of the colon and liver at his home in Fort Lauderdale.

Gleason’s career spanned six decades — he was a nightclub comic in the ’30s, a character actor under contract to Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox in the ’40s, one of the reigning stars of network series television in the ’50s and ’60s and a late blooming movie star in “The Hustler,” “Gigot” and as Sheriff Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

The Ralph Kramden character in “The Honeymooners,” an overweight bus driver living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, originated as a regular sketch on Gleason’s weekly “Cavalcade Of Stars” series on the Dumont Television Network in 1951.

Born in Brooklyn, he started playing local clubs in his early 20s, and was spotted by Jack L. Warner, who signed him to a contract.

About the movies he made in Hollywood in the early ’40s, Gleason said, “I played gangsters, escaped convicts and Arabs. They were mostly wartime pictures and as long as you killed the Nazis, they were hits.”

Survivors include his third wife and two daughters.

(Excerpted from the June 25, 1987 edition of Daily Variety)

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